THE FOLLOWING quotations come from an October 2020 publication of USAID, the US government agency, on its support for what it calls “free and fair elections” in non-US countries.
“Elections and other political processes are pivotal to the quality of a country’s governance and can either greatly advance or set back a country’s long-term democratic development…The most fundamental principle defining credible elections is that they must reflect the free expression of the will of the people. To achieve this, elections should be transparent, inclusive and accountable, and there must be equitable opportunities to compete in the elections.”
I wonder if the agency feels that these characteristics have applied fully to all recent elections in the US itself? For instance, would it say that the 2018 gubernatorial election in Georgia, when a Black woman, Stacey Abrams, was a contender, was “transparent” and “inclusive?” If so, why the continuing charges of voter suppression dogging her white rival, now the governor, who at the time was the secretary of state and, in that capacity, the supervisor of the same election? Would USAID discern any conflict of interest in that scenario? Was there an “equitable” opportunity for Abrams to compete? Was the election “credible?”
To whom or what was this year’s US presidential election “accountable?” Are the continuing (though faltering) Republican challenges to the result an assault on “the free expression of the will of the people?” Does that “will” matter if it can be overridden by the decision of an Electoral College? Is it within the framework of “democratic development” for pressure to be put on people responsible for certifying state results to give decisions not justified by those results?
USAID provides help to countries outside America whose conduct it regards as electorally deficient, but if conduct within America is seen in the same light, what example is the agency advocating as worthy of emulation?
Events in today’s America have been bewildering the world; an Irish Times writer actually said in April that the country was now to be pitied. Donald Trump has created these stumblings, most say. I don’t agree. Before Trump, disturbing social, racial and economic fissures were already apparent. Barack Obama did well. But, as the nation’s first black president, he had to be circumspect. There are African-Americans who still fault him for having failed “his” people. But of whom was he the president?
What Trump has done is exploit, deepen and widen the divisions. His early dog-whistle slogan “Make America Great Again” told you immediately what his presidency would be like. Why “again?” Because America was no longer great. And why was that? Because a Black man – Kenyan, we were assured, and Muslim, too, with a middle name like Hussein – had become the president. You have seen his obsession with belittling and tearing down everything, not only Obamacare, that Obama built.
In addition, there is Trump’s own psychological make-up. He is described as a narcissist, but that is to give narcissism a worse name than it has. The Narcissus of Greek mythology was a beautiful young man who fell hopelessly in love with the reflection of his face in a pond. There obviously could be no physical consummation of this love, and Narcissus pined away to death at the water’s edge.
Our Donald has descended to a lower level: he is in love not so much with his face – an unlikely proposition – as with all of himself: his foresight, he says; his encyclopaedic knowledge (of the health benefits of drinking bleach, say); his unmatched ability to choose the right staff (then fire and pardon them); his “very stable genius.” And there are tens of millions of Americans to whose blinkered opinions he gives effective voice.
So now, unable to accept that he could possibly lose an election (and to “Sleepy Joe!”), he and his acolytes have been raising objections – based, remarkably, on conspiracies. In official Washington, Mitch McConnell, a man with no discernible attachment to the principle of nation above party, and Lindsey Graham, who appears not even to understand that there is such a principle, are in the vanguard of the weakening Republican pushback against claims, deemed fraudulent, of a Democratic victory last November 3.
In court, a lead Trump attorney is Rudy Giuliani, the once celebrated mayor of New York, now a pathetic old man bumbling disjointedly away from a clearly inadequate brief, hair dye and sweat running in rivulets down his face.
Trump cannot “make America great again.” That is nonsense. What he has brilliantly achieved, however, is make America, still the world’s most powerful country, grate again and again. On our nerves. Our forbearance. Our respect. But America will overcome.